For Rick MacArthur, CC ’78, being asked to be Columbia College Class Day speaker was “the greatest honor since I got chosen to be commencement speaker in high school.”
MacArthur, who served as a news editor of Spectator in 1977 and is on Spectator’s board of trustees, said he recognized the importance of giving a commencement address. “I’m very conscious of the necessity to be entertaining and to be serious, I want to meld the two goals,” he said.
MacArthur, who received his B.A. in history, said that the University greatly influenced his intellectual development. “Going to Columbia caused me to be a more serious person, a more serious reader, and to take myself more seriously in the academic sense, not in the social sense,” MacArthur said.
He remembers lining up at 5 a.m. to register for a CC section that had been recommended to him. It turned out to be the “most rigorous and intimidating professor I had ever had,” he said. “It was my first early academic experience.”
Spectator was also an important aspect of MacArthur’s time at Columbia. “Spec and Columbia together made me what I am today because the academic part of it was very important to me, in spite of all my work on the paper.”
Though he said he wishes he had spent more time studying and less time at Spectator, his proudest moment at Columbia was making the dean’s list in his final semester after completing his tenure as news editor.
MacArthur remembers coming late to the first organizing meeting at Spectator and discovering a new passion for journalism.
Though other new writers had left by that point, David Smith, CC ’75, gave MacArthur “the most spectacularly inspiring pep talk about journalism and what journalism can do. He changed my life.”
MacArthur says that he is still in touch with many of his friends from Columbia.
“Socially, the difference between Columbia and other colleges is that so many people stayed in New York,” he said. “My best friends in college are still some of my best friends today.”
After graduating from Columbia in 1978, MacArthur worked for United Press International, the Chicago Sun-Times, the Bergen Record, the Washington Star, and the Wall Street Journal. In 1993, he received the Mencken Award for best editorial column in the New York Times.
MacArthur is the president and publisher of Harper’s Magazine, the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in America. Under his leadership, the publication has received 18 National Magazine Awards, the industry’s highest recognition.
He has written three critically acclaimed books on politics. He also is a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities, and serves on the boards of the Author’s Guild, the Death Penalty Information Center, and the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center.